fbpx

8 Essential Running Drills To Improve Form And Speed

Perfect your running form with these coach-approved drills

As a UESCA-certified running coach, one of the main parts of my work with runners is to improve running technique and establish proper running form.

Good form for running can be helpful not only for injury prevention but also help you run faster and run faster for longer distances, which essentially means that you have better running economy.

Unfortunately, experienced runners often have a more difficult time adjusting their running form or running technique because their movement patterns have become so ingrained, whereas new runners can establish good running form right off the bat without having to correct bad habits.

The good news is that running form drills can be an effective way for both experienced distance runners and new runners to improve running technique, which can then improve running economy and running speed, and reduce the risk of injuries.

In this guide, we will discuss the benefits of running drills for distance runners and sprinters, how to incorporate running form drills into your workouts and overall training plan, and the best running form drills to help you run faster and hopefully injury-free.

A coach helping a runner with a running drill.

What Are Running Drills?

Before we look at the benefits of running drills and the types of movement patterns and running drills you can incorporate into your workouts, let’s discuss what a running drill is.

There are different types of running drills.

Running form drills specifically target aspects of running technique or the movement patterns necessary for an efficient running stride. 

Here are some of the aspects of running technique that may be addressed with running form drills:

  • Increasing your running cadence (steps per minute)1Schubert, A. G., Kempf, J., & Heiderscheit, B. C. (2013). Influence of Stride Frequency and Length on Running Mechanics. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach6(3), 210–217. https://doi.org/10.1177/1941738113508544
  • Improving your foot strike pattern to improve running economy and support injury prevention. 
  • Learning how to use your upper body or arm swing more effectively to propel your legs forward.
  • Working on aspects of proper running form such as engaging your core muscles so your torso is upright or making sure that your arms are not swinging side to side but rather just back-and-forth so that less energy is wasted.
A walking lunge drill.

Other popular running drills don’t necessarily work on running form per se but rather are geared toward helping you run faster.

For example, plyometrics such as bounding, skipping, and high knees sprinting can build strength in your glutes, calves, quads, hip flexors, and upper body.

These types of running drills improve running power and indirectly improve aspects of running technique, such as decreasing ground contact time, improving knee lift, and making you stronger and more explosive.2Hasegawa, H., Yamauchi, T., & Kraemer, W. J. (2007). Foot Strike Patterns of Runners at the 15-km Point During an Elite-Level Half Marathon. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research21(3), 888. https://doi.org/10.1519/r-22096.1

‌Additionally, there may be additional running drills, or some of the same aforementioned goals of running drills that are used as part of a dynamic warm-up to increase range of motion and activate the muscles in the lower body before your workout.

For this reason, you might incorporate dynamic stretches and running drills after a basic cardio warm-up to fully “turn on” the hip flexors, glutes, calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, and upper body muscles before you start a speed workout or race.

A good example here would be walking lunges or A-skips.

A group of runners doing a skips.

Why Should Runners Do Drills?

There are many benefits of running drills, depending on the specific running drills you include in your training plan and when you perform the drills in your workouts. Some of the top benefits of running drills include the following:

  • Helping you run faster
  • Helping you learn proper form and running technique
  • Improving running economy
  • Increasing running power
  • Helping warm up the muscles before workouts or races 
  • Increasing range of motion and mobility
  • Aiding in injury prevention with other supplementary workouts like strength training and plyometrics

What Are the Best Running Drills to Run Faster?

Here are some of the best running form drills for distance runners and sprinters alike:

#1: High Knees

High knees is a classic running drill that helps improve your knee drive, strengthen your hip flexors, glutes, and calves, and train your body to land on your midfoot.

You’ll also get a cardio workout with this challenging drill.

  1. Stand upright with good posture. 
  2. Use your arms to drive your knees up towards your chest as you sprint.
  3. Think about exploding off of the midfoot rather than landing on your heel. 

Focus on having a super high running cadence with very fast feet and driving your knees up rather than sprinting forward as fast as possible (small, fast steps with lots of vertical knee lift rather than a long, loping stride length).

#2: Walking Lunges

Walking lunges isn’t a running form drill that directly translates to teaching you good running form, but it is a good bodyweight strength training exercise for the muscles used by running and is a good drill to include in your warm up.

  1. Keep your hands on your hips and take a giant step forward with your right foot.
  2. Bend both knees 90 degrees to drop straight down into a lunge. Keep your torso vertical and your chest up.
  3. Press through both feet to advance the left leg forward.

#3: Bounding

Bounding is a great running drill and plyometric exercise that can help you run faster by strengthening the calves, quadriceps, glutes, hip flexors, and hamstrings.

This running form exercise is essentially exaggerated skipping. 

  1. Use your upper body (powerful arm swing) to provide momentum for the knee lift. 
  2. Land on your midfoot and explode upward using your calf muscles. 
  3. Aim for maximizing your vertical height with a powerful knee drive.

#4: Butt Kicks

Butt kicks are a good dynamic warm-up exercise for the quads.

  1. Pump your arms vigorously while you kick your heels back to tap your butt as you run forward.
  2. Take fast steps, landing on your midfoot. 

#5: Cariocas

Cariocas, or grapevines are a good upper back, core, and hip mobility running drill. Grapevines also improve hip abductor strength. 3You run sideways in this drill.Mucha, M. D., Caldwell, W., Schlueter, E. L., Walters, C., & Hassen, A. (2017). Hip abductor strength and lower extremity running related injury in distance runners: A systematic review. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport20(4), 349–355. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2016.09.002

  1. Stand upright with good posture and your feet hip-width apart. Bring your arms out to the sides like the letter T.
  2. Press into your left foot to push off, bringing it behind the right foot as you transfer your weight onto the left foot.
  3. Step your right foot further to the right (out to the side) so that you’re standing back upright with both feet.
  4. Next, cross your left foot in front of your body in front of your right foot, drive your knee up towards your chest, and step your weight down onto your left foot
  5. Step your right foot out to the right again to continue traveling laterally.
  6. Continue shuffling to the right with this pattern, alternating moving your left foot first behind and then in front of the right foot.
  7. Reverse directions to come back, starting with bringing the right foot behind the left foot, stepping the left foot to the left, and then bringing the right foot in front of the left foot.

As you do this running drill, sweep your arms across your body in a reciprocal pattern to your hips, as you would with running, but moving more parallel to the ground across and behind your body rather than forward and back next to your body.

#6: A-Skips

The A-skips drill strengthens the glutes and calves and teaches the backward pawing motion, which is helpful for increasing running speed.

  1. Skip forward with high knees. Dorsiflex your toes on the left foot so that they are pointing toward the sky.
  2. Rapidly claw your left foot to the ground, directly under your center of mass like a prancing horse, landing on the ball of your foot near the toes. 
  3. Pump your arms as if sprinting. 

#7: B-Skips

The B-skip is the same as the A-skip drill, but you extend your leg forward first before driving the knee up.

#8: Straight Leg Running

Run forward with straight legs, pawing at the ground to strengthen the hamstrings, glutes, ankles, and muscles in the lower leg. Paw at the ground to practice propelling yourself forward.

How to Add Running Drills to Your Training Program

Incorporate a few running form drills into your dynamic warm-up before workouts.

You can vary the running drills you choose, or select specific drills based on the aspects you need to improve with your running technique or the type of training plan you follow.

For example, a distance runner training for a half marathon would be best served by picking running drills to improve running economy whereas sprinters should choose running drills that will build runners and acceleration ability.

As with strength training or other types of workouts in a training plan, make sure that you don’t suddenly jump into doing a bunch of running drills every single day. 

Gradually build up the number of running of drills and the number of reps you do to reduce the risk of injuries.

For a full explanation of carioca, check out this next guide:

References

  • 1
    Schubert, A. G., Kempf, J., & Heiderscheit, B. C. (2013). Influence of Stride Frequency and Length on Running Mechanics. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach6(3), 210–217. https://doi.org/10.1177/1941738113508544
  • 2
    Hasegawa, H., Yamauchi, T., & Kraemer, W. J. (2007). Foot Strike Patterns of Runners at the 15-km Point During an Elite-Level Half Marathon. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research21(3), 888. https://doi.org/10.1519/r-22096.1
  • 3
    You run sideways in this drill.Mucha, M. D., Caldwell, W., Schlueter, E. L., Walters, C., & Hassen, A. (2017). Hip abductor strength and lower extremity running related injury in distance runners: A systematic review. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport20(4), 349–355. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2016.09.002
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

1 thought on “8 Essential Running Drills To Improve Form And Speed”

  1. I enjoyed the article and advice. I am turning 60 this year and have to have knee surgery in February, after the recovery period I will need all the running drills and strength exercises to build my body up again. I don’t want to run too soon.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.